St. Patrick’s day fills me with conflicting emotions: pride in my Irish heritage, a burning desire to paint the town green and the sinking sensation that slaps me in the face — every year — as soon as I land in Manhattan and find hordes of drunken fools chugging green Bud Light at 8:00 am with green shamrocks painted on their faces.
Is this really how we, as Americans of Irish descent, want to represent ourselves? Instead of using St. Patrick’s day as an excuse to indulge in the unique joys of projectile vomiting a green substance, perhaps we should consider calmly paging through copies of the Book of Kells, as we discuss the country’s great vernacular tradition, knit wool sweaters and trot off to Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce readings, all while sagely debating The Troubles.
Crazy talk? Perhaps. But I had to boycott St. Patrick’s Day this year, out of respect for whatever dignity is still stubbornly clinging to my hearty Irish roots.
This time last year, Stephen and I were on a cross-Ireland road trip with my parents, a fearsome and potentially relationship-nuking activity that, in the end, proved to be one of the best trips I have ever taken and an experience that deepened and simultaneously lightened all of our bonds. Driving through a blizzard, getting snowed in to our hotel in Derry, days of lashing rain everywhere else, a failure to rent a car with GPS, the polite fights that occasionally crackled like dry twigs in a campfire as we drove through slippery mountain passes sans street lights, staged hideous faux photo shoots at bars with pints of Guinness held aloft (if slightly askew) and what could generously be described as “wacky” or “enthusiastic” expressions on all of our faces, and suffered through the acute humiliation of listening to my father sing “Danny Boy” in an off-key, dramatic warble whenever a silence descended on our group for more than two minutes. It all merely served to weld us together, whether from fear of blackmail or genuine affection is unclear.
One of the happiest surprises on the trip was the state of Irish cuisine. The entire country’s new-found embrace of classic Irish cooking, prepared with traditional French techniques surprised us all, and could be found everywhere, from village pubs to haute city destinations.
Gone was the greasy, under-seasoned, flash-frozen mystery sausage and half-burnt, hollowed out, undersalted chips of yesteryear. Instead, unctuous, quirky bangers, straight-forward gravies and perfectly tender and rich potatoes, in every shape and form, appeared at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Though the Irish repertoire of dishes is somewhat limited (due, at least in part, to the agricultural challenges of the region and chefs’ almost universal commitment to serving local, organic fare), their creative manipulation of the items they do have, is almost infinite.
This year on St. Patrick’s day, I attended Good Meat with Lisa. The always delicious Edible Magazine was hosting the event and Jimmy’s No. 43, Fatty ‘Cue, Fleisher’s, Print, Cookshop & 100 Acres, Cleaver Co. & The Green Table and Northern Spy Food Co. were on hand to distribute small plates of choice cuts and Bedell Cellars Winery, Kelso of Brooklyn and Tuthilltown Spirits were there to provide us with some much-needed quaffs with which to wash all of the beautifully fatty lamb ribs, the pork rillettes, golden beet pickles and the bacon chocolate chip cookies.
Lisa and I scampered about, gorging on the gorgeous offerings (Cookshop & 100 Acres saw me rather sheepishly scuttle through their buffet a record four times) and thanking our lucky stars that we were safely ensconced in a bacon-studded, whiskey-flavored bubble from the vomitorium outside. After we had our fill, I dashed back into the city-wide den of iniquity.
On my train back to White Plains, I thought about our time in Ireland, the plates I’d tried that night and the grand, elevated, simple, humble beauty of plain proteins and starches, adornedwith deft touches of fat and spice, eaten with cherished friends and family, with (just a pint or three) of rich and frothy Guinness.
Below, check out my favorite traditional Irish and family potato, gravy and bangers recipes — tweaked just a wee bit.
Irish & American Chips
Makes 6 servings
Ingredients for Irish Chips:
- 3 lbs yellow potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into large wedges
- 2 TBSP vegetable oil
- 2 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
- salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
- Place potatoes in hot tap water and soak for about 10 minutes. (This helps the potatoes crisp and cook through, a tip I learned in Cook’s Illustrated).
- Drain potatoes and dry well. Coat baking sheet with 2 TBSP oil, add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange potatoes in one layer on sheet, drizzle with butter and cover in foil. Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Remove foil, rotate pan. Cook for about 20 more minutes, rotating potatoes and flipping them carefully with a spatula once.
- Drain on paper towels, if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Ingredients for American chips:
- 2 lb. yellow potatoes, scrubbed clean, peeled (or not) and sliced paper thin, with mandolin or by hand
- 1-2 cup vegetable oil
- spices, to taste (I use a blend of equal parts Old Bay, smoked paprika, sea salt, finely grated Parmesan)
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Heat oil in small-medium saucepan to between 350 and 375 degrees
- Drop in about 5-10 slices of potato at a time, fry til golden, remove from oil with slotted spoon, place on baking sheet.
- When baking sheet is covered in chips, season to taste, and pop in oven for a few minutes to finish crisping.
- Serve warm, if possible.
Nutritional breakdown for Chips: The Irish chips have about 230 calories and 8 grams of fat per serving. Whopping amounts of Vitamin C, potassium and a decent source of fiber. Because we’re using vegetable oil, the fat is all heart-healthy. If you douse the whole mess in as much salt as I do though, your cardiologist will be pissed. It’s hard to say how much oil the American chips absorb, so I refuse to warrant a guess. As me after I’ve had a pint or two, and I’m sure I’ll have some sort of opinion on the matter.
Cost breakdown for Chips: I have never seen quite as much duct tape put to good use as I did in Ireland — why, not only can it secure holes in luggage, furniture and clothing, it can hold cars together! The Irish are a frugal bunch — and the humble spud does them proud. This comes in at about $0.30 a serving.
Verdict / In the Future: I love love love Yukon Golds because they taste buttery, rich and velvety, even naked. But some people prefer Russet or Reds or plain ol’ baking tators. Go with what works for you.
Makes about 1.5 cups, or plenty for 6 servings
- 3 TBSP butter
- 1/2 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/2 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 TBSP flour
- 2 cups any combination of chicken or beef stock, beer or wine, a bit of half and half or cream
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Sprig rosemary
- Heat butter until frothy in small saucepan.
- Add vegetables, cook over medium heat until translucent, about 4 minutes.
- Add flour, stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes.
- Whisk in liquids, bring to boil, reduce to simmer.
- Add salt and pepper, to taste plus a sprig of rosemary.
- Cook until thickened (I like a loose gravy when accompanied by sausage, so I cooked it for about 10 minutes).
- Strain, discard solids, reheat, serve with sausages.
Bangers for Blokes and Chicks
Makes 6 servings
- 6 chicken/tofu/turkey/whatevs sausages (anything my husband would turn his nose up at, including, but not limited to, Chicken and Apple, Tomato and Basil, Artichoke and Garlic, Chipotle, Spinach and Feta)
- 6 full fat, hardcore pork sausages and 8-12 ounces of Irish white sausage
- 4 TBSP butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Melt 1 TBSP butter in heavy skillet, until foaming subsides. Cook the pork-y sausage first, over medium-high heat, until cooked through, in batches if necessary. Cook until they’re almost completely done; they’ve lost any pinkness but still could use a minute or two of heat. (Just so you know, anyone who thinks cooking sausage in butter is a bad idea is a communist, and should be reported to the State Department.)
- Keep pork-y sausages warm in the oven — they’ll finish up there. Fry up the Irish sausages next, draining off the pork fat first and adding another teaspoon or so of butter if needed. Cook until finished, keep warm in the oven.
- The chicken or tofu sausage come pre-cooked, but they need a lashing of fat and heat to make them delicious. I like to split them in half and give them a butter bath in the remaining 2-3 TBSP.
- Serve with the other sausages, try to trick your husband into eating the healthier ones, fail.
Nutritional breakdown for Bangers for Blokes and Chicks: All in, about 450 calories and 21 grams of fat per serving. You don’t need me to tell you that this meal is a bomb of cholesterol and saturated fat, but there you have it. It’s also quite high in protein.
Cost breakdown for Bangers for Blokes and Chicks: If you shell out for the good stuff, which you should, you’ll spend about $6.67 a serving.
Verdict / In the Future: With the butter bath, and combined with pork products, Stephen dubbed the “healthy” sausages “acceptable”. I love them. Especially sandwiched between American and Irish chips and drizzled in Good Gravy.
Cheddar Pretzel Bites
Adapted from Epicurious
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 3 TBSP + 1/2 TBSP light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm milk
- 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 TBSP kosher salt
- 4 cups water
- 4 teaspoons baking soda
- sea salt
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- Activate the yeast in the warm water with 1/2 TBSP brown sugar. Stir with fork until yeast is mixed in and foamy. Let sit for about 8 minutes.
- Warm milk and add 3 TBSP sugar, mix.
- Put flour and kosher salt in stand mixer fitted with hook attachment. Put on low, add yeast and milk mixtures and stir to combine until dough ball forms and separates from bowl.
- Cover with saran wrap and put in warm place, like a sunny window.
- Allow dough to rise for 2 hours. With floured hands, remove about 1/4 of the ball. With a rolling pin, roll it into a rectangle, about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide. Top with 1/4 of the cheese, right down the middle. Seal up over the cheese, like an enchilada. Slice into 1-inch thick slices and set aside on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Continue until all of the cheese bites are formed.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and allow dough to rest for 30 minutes.
- Combine water and baking powder, simmer over medium-high heat. If pretzel bites look like they’ll leak cheese the second they go in the water, seal them up with your fingers. Dunk pretzel bites briefly in the water, removing when they’ve floated to the top. Set aside in one layer on another sheet lined with parchment until all are dunked.
- Sprinkle generously with sea salt. Pop in oven for 10-15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Warning: the bites puff up quite a bit so make sure you leave about an inch of space between them.
- Brush with melted butter and serve, with mustard for dunking if you like.
Nutritional breakdown for Cheddar Pretzel Bites: About 350 calories and 12 grams of fat per serving. Chock full of general naughtiness.
Cost breakdown for Cheddar Pretzel Bites: About $0.50 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: These are habit-forming. A perfect storm of carbs, fat and sodium.